XI: The weekend of May 4th

-Everton gave Manchester City a fight: Ross Barkley scored a beautiful opening goal, but City came back and passed the test with aplomb. The title race is in their hands now. None of the three contenders is a truly dominant force, but the Citizens are the least flawed of the three. Liverpool’s back four has been described as “truck nuts on a Lexus;” Chelsea’s strikers have often struggled to produce goals. The most glaring weak link in City’s side is Martín Demichelis. The object of the game is to score more than you allow, and City have the best goal difference in the league. When looked at this way, what’s surprising is how close the title race is. City have struggled against their best competition; Chelsea took all six points from two games, and Liverpool nabbed a win last month. 

-Chelsea excused themselves from the title race by failing to beat Norwich yesterday at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea, who famously parked the bus against Liverpool, saw the tables turned against Norwich, and couldn’t crack the canaries. Jose Mourinho, without a trace of irony, criticized Norwich’s tactics. By the end of today, they may be mathematically eliminated, and they have no one to blame but themselves. In the past two months, they’ve played Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Norwich, and in those four matches they’ve scored just one goal, and gotten just one point. If the top three win their remaining games, Chelsea will miss out on the title by four points.

-Liverpool have Suarez, Sturridge, and Sterling; City can rely on Negredo and Aguero. Where do Chelsea turn when they need a goal? Fernando Torres? Demba Ba? Samuel Eto’o? It’s easy to say that Mourinho should have bought a striker, but Chelsea have struggled at the position since Didier Drogba left in 2012. Andre Villas-Boas tried to prepare for this by buying Fernando Torres, who hasn’t lived up to his Liverpool form. Roberto Di Matteo let Drogba go without a significant replacement in his one summer in charge. Rafa Benitez bought Demba Ba, who like Torres hasn’t lived up to the hype. What is it about Chelsea that causes strikers to struggle?

-At the other end of the table, the story is Sunderland. The Black Cats were dreadful for the majority of the season; as recently as April 7th, they lost 5-1 to Tottenham. Since then, they’ve drawn at the Etihad, won at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, and demolished poor Cardiff. Saturday’s 1-0 win against United brings them one step closer to the safety that seemed so far away when they were bottom at Christmas. Gus Poyet deserves all the credit in the world for this turn around.

-Sunderland’s success comes at the expense of Cardiff and Fullham, who have been relegated from the Premier League. For Cardiff, it’s a bitter end to their first top-flight season since the 1960s, and the Premier League will be worse off without Vincent Tan strutting around with a jersey tucked into his dress pants. For Fulham, next season will be the first in 14 without Premier League play.

-With Everton’s loss, Arsenal secured once more the prestigious fourth place trophy. The Gunners will once again feature in the Champions League, but after the way they began this season, fourth should feel like a disappointment to Arsene Wenger. An FA Cup victory over Hull would salvage an otherwise mundane season. Remember, less than a year ago, when Wenger submitted that cheeky bid for Suarez? Liverpool’s stubbornness has them in the title race; who knows where Arsenal would be if they had acquired the Uruguayan?

-The Spanish title will likely be decided on the final day of the season when Atletico hosts Barcelona. Atletico, who are on their way to the Champions League final, suffered a shock defeat at mid-table Levante to bring the title race into question once more. Real Madrid had their fate in their hands for only a few hours before getting a draw against Valencia. Cristiano Ronaldo earned los Blancos the point they got with a preposterous backheel equalizer in stoppage time. If Atletico win their final two games, they will finish with 94 points and the title. Barcelona sit three points back, and Real, with a match in hand, five points back.

-On this side of the Atlantic, the Major League Soccer season is beginning to take shape. The New England Revolution jumped into first place in the Eastern conference with their first ever win in Toronto. TFC took early control of the match, but Patrick Mullins had a stellar outside-of-the-box strike for his first MLS goal. Lee Nguyen converted his third penalty in as many games to give the Revs all three points. New England didn’t score in their first three games, but things have changed quickly in a tightly packed Eastern Conference. For Toronto, it was their third straight loss, despite the returns of Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley to the lineup.

-Out west, late winners were the theme. Real Salt Lake scored twice in the last few minutes to steal three points from winless Chicago. D.C. leveled Portland twice, but Max Urruti’s stoppage-time winner gave the Timbers their first win. And the Seattle Sounders came from behind against Philly to take sole control of first in the conference.

-LA Galaxy and USMNT defender Omar Gonzalez left Saturday’s match with a knee injury. Gonzalez has a history of knee injuries; he tore his ACL while training with FC Nurnburg in 2012.  Two weeks remain until Jurgen Klinsmann calls the U.S. players into camp in the build-up to the World Cup. Gonzalez was expected to start alongside Matt Besler in Brazil, but this may now be in doubt. The Galaxy went on to lose 1-0 to Colorado.

-In better news for the Yanks, Arsenal youngster Gedion Zeleam is reportedly nearing his American citizenship. Zeleam is just 17, but would represent yet another multi-national coup for Klinsmann. Since becoming the USMNT manager, Klinsmann has lured Aron Jóhannsson from Iceland and John Anthony Brooks and Julian Green from Germany. Zeleam is in the German system, but withdrew from Germany’s U-17 squad ahead of European qualifiers. The U.S. may be turning a corner from an era when Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotić opted not to represent America.

 

 

 

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